October 12, 2014

The significance of lobbying in Indo-US ties

The significance of lobbying in Indo-US ties

By Guest Post Takshashila on October 7, 2014 in blog

by Sanjhana Dore

There are many factors that determine a country's foreign policy. To understand a country's foreign policy, like in the case of the USA, we have to first look local before global. That is, to understand American policy in this case towards India, or other countries, we first have to understand its domestic politics. We have to study their domestic push and pull factors. One of the most important and controversial domestic factors is lobbying.

by Sanjhana Dore There are many factors that determine a country's foreign policy. To understand a country's foreign policy, like in the case of the USA, we have to... 

What is lobbying and what role does it play in Indo-Us ties? There still does not seem to be a single definition that really covers all its elements. Nevertheless, it can simply, be understood as the process through which groups, organization or people directly or indirectly try to sway political decisions through various forms of advocacy directed at policymakers. Essentially, these groups, organization or people are self-interested. Wherein their interest or endorsements are on the bases of it resulting in the best outcome for them; one that might not be favorable to the other parties in concern or the country on the whole. The bitter truth of the matter is, this is how bills, laws or polices are, essentially, passed. Interestingly, the practice is frowned upon in India, as it is classified as an act associated with corruption or bribery and thus is largely unregulated. Contrary to that in the United States, it is a regulated practice and is important, if not central, in determining policy.

Lobbying can be understood through a cricket analogy. For example, the selectors are tasked with picking an additional player for an upcoming tour and there are four players to choose from. Among the four players, one decides to persuade an advisor to the board to endorse him. In the case that he does get selected, the advisor's endorsement of the player might or might not have been solely based on the player's ability. Many might view this negatively because it has by and large over the years been presented as such which has resulted in questioning the morality of the practice on the whole. The practice or method is not principally negative but certain forms of the advocacy involved or employed could be classified, as being unsavoury while others might not be. For example, persuading a company or group to support you by convincing them that you have what it takes or having credentials to back you is as much lobbying as an exchange of favours.

In the last couple of years, there has been a significant rise in the number of groups, organization and people that have been lobbying for the Indian cause in Washington; in an effort to strength Indo-US ties. Leading to many calling the Indian-American Lobby, the "New Kids on the Block". Taking the lead for the, already well-know and well established, Israel or Jewish Lobby, the India lobby is getting results in Washington — and having a profound impact on U.S. policy. This not only has major implication towards Indo-US relations but also in regard to US policy in Asia and its implications for India. The USINPAC or the United States India Political Action Committee is, an example of, a lobbyist group in the US that is responsible for lobbying to secure stronger ties between the two countries. Their latest initiative, a Congressional Briefing on US Liquefies Gas (LNG) Exports to India, is aimed at convincing American lawmakers that India is the ideal import market and strengthening ties in this regard will, potentially, advance energy security, [which has been] a critical US foreign policy goal in the region. This does not, however, take into consideration whether or not the outcome really benefits India or the United States.

The USINPAC is only one of the players in the growing lobby, there are also businesses like those a part of the IT sector both in India and the US that are also very invested in the implications of the domestic rulings. Especially those that pose to have foreign policy implications like that of the US Senate rulings to limit the number of H-1B work visas. This issue has also seen pressure for the Indian government. There is data to show that in the past the Indian government has financed private lobby firms like BGR, about $2.5 million, to peruse their agenda in Washington. In this case it is clear why this is an issue of concern to the Indian government because this Senate ruling, limiting H-1B work visas, could lower India's gross domestic product by up to 0.4 percent in 2015. In this regard, there has been intense lobbying from many organizations, like the US- India Business Council, to reconsider this ruling and the foreign implication it poses in the long term. This is a prime example of the India lobby in action and the fact that it consists of both domestic as well as international players.

Hence, it is fair to make the assumption that lobbying plays a significant role in the shaping of US foreign policy towards India. With its growing presence in Washington, the Indian-American or India lobby has become a force to be reckon with and one that policy advisors will be watching closely in the years to come when trying to determine or understanding Indo-US ties.

Sanjhana Dore is an intern at the Takshashila Institution

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